◈ Orchid Child
In a faraway eastern kingdom, there was a towering castle called Kirin. One day, the growth that covered the back of the castle began creeping towards its inner walls.
The most prominent noble families of the kingdom were discussing the implications of this omen when clouds started to creep upon the full moon and covered it. Yet a small patch in the forest nearby stayed illuminated for six days. Reputable scholars then declared “This is the scent of an orchid. Isn’t it the most elegant of smells? This smell has been permeating the village nearby for several days already. Wouldn’t you agree it would be the most auspicious omen, and the plant giving off this fragrance would be priceless?” The king, hearing the scholars’ acclamation, commanded his soldiers to search the forest and bring him the source of the fragrance.
The king’s soldiers chased after the light in the forest. They finally came across a glorious orchid flower. Underneath it was a baby as delicate and magnificent as the flower itself, swaddled in cloth.
The baby was brought to the castle. Soon, a rumor spread that the baby was a goddess of orchids who was reborn into this realm as a blessing from above to the kingdom, or a descendant of the orchids themselves. The entire kingdom rejoiced. Even the king, who was reviled throughout his kingdom for his cruelty, vowed to raise the baby himself to become a protector of the kingdom.
The child had an unimaginable latent potential. Many martial artists of the kingdom, recognizing this, wanted to be the one to teach her. However, the king had his own ideas about what her education should be like. She was taught to perform ceremonial sword dances at festivals and other special events. Even though she performed beautifully, she was not allowed to pursue any further swordsmanship.
However, although she was not able to hone her body, she was able to hone her mind under the tutelage of many great sages.
At 16, the child became a shrine guardian and she took on many new roles. She did her best to advise the kingdom’s royal court with her peerless mind and rhetoric. She wanted to put the kingdom back on the right track after the many years of rule by the reviled king had seen it start to wilt.
The common people came to adore her for this. However, there were people who distrusted her. Her rise in popularity and influence did not go unnoticed or unenvied. Members of the king's court began to conspire against her, seeding fear and doubt into the king's heart. Fearing her popularity, the king locked the orchid child away in an isolated room and only allowed her out to perform rituals for the shrine.
One day, a young man climbed over the walls and snuck into the shrine guardian’s residence.
The young man introduced himself as Yeung Reung-Hyang. He was already a member of the court, but he claimed that one day he would be the strongest person in all of the kingdom.
“I know that you have great potential, shrine guardian, and it’s just waiting to be released. Anyone can tell by how skillful you perform your ceremonial dances. Everyone who sees them is instantly captivated by your skills. Do you really want to spend the rest of your days with only your books to learn from?”
The shrine guardian was quick to agree with Yeung, and started to train in secret with him. To commemorate this occasion, Yeung gifted the shrine guardian with a long and sturdy cloth to tie up her hair during the many years of rigorous training to follow.
And so, they started their training together, unbeknownst to anyone else in the kingdom.
The shrine guardian, who was smart and gifted, was soon matched in skill with Yeung. As they trained together, both of their martial arts skills grew more and more.
As the years passed, the shrine guardian grew to be a graceful and wise woman and she was adored even more by the people in the kingdom. Meanwhile, words of Yeung’s martial prowess spread throughout the land, and he became a hero figure to the common people.
During this time, the king fell more and more paranoid due to the schemes of his treacherous courtiers. The king became jealous of the shrine guardian’s popularity. He wanted to banish her from his kingdom, but also didn’t want to give his subjects more reason to hate him.
One day, one of the courtiers said to the king, “I am fearful. That woman, that shrine guardian… I am sure she is trying to win over your people so that she can take your rightful throne. You should command her to take Eshi Castle with that troublemaker Yeung. Can you believe he’s been trying to rally up the common people to his side? You can use the opportunity to ensure they both will be killed. Only then can Your Grace rest easily once more.”
For countless years, the kingdom had been trying to take Eshi Castle. However, it was impregnable.
After the king gave the orders for Eshi Castle to be attacked again, Yeung and the shrine guardian, joined by Yeung’s closest allies and a band of soldiers personally chosen by the king, started marching there straight away. Although Yeung thought it was strange that very little resources were allocated to the expedition, he did not dare question the king’s orders. Besides, he believed that with the shrine guardian on their side, victory would be certain.
After all, although everyone knew of her mental prowess, no one else knew about her martial skills.
Six days they marched, and Eshi Castle was still nowhere in sight.
They ended up in a vast open field. The reeds swayed in the wind like the waves of a turbulent sea. Suddenly, as if all were given an invisible signal, the king’s vanguard turned their spears toward the shrine guardian and Yeung’s group. At that moment, Yeung knew...the lack of resources, the aimless wandering with the castle nowhere in sight… it was all a ruse planned so that they could be killed. They both felt conflicted. It is one thing to lose one’s life to an enemy’s blade in the heat of a battle; it’s another thing to fight your own fellow countrymen, the same people whom you thought were your comrade in arms.
The vanguard soldiers did not fear Yeung nor the shrine guardian and charged forward with their spears. As Yeung and the shrine guardian stood still, shocked and conflicted, Yeung’s own men fought to protect him against the soldiers. As they fell one by one, Yeung could not help but cry out in sorrow. He grabbed one of his fallen men’s weapons and leapt into battle. However, he was greatly outnumbered. His valiant effort was no match against the numbers of the king's men, and he was ready to succumb to his fate. At that moment, he saw a crescent pendulum swinging and cutting through the attacking soldiers. It was the shrine guardian. She had the crescent pendulum on one end and a sword on the other end of the piece of cloth Yeung gave her so many years ago. With this strange contraption, she was cutting through her foes in an elegant display of martial arts, the likes of which Yeung had never seen before. She had apparently kept this skill secret even from Yeung. He wondered… How many countless hours, even years, went into perfecting this deadly art? Watching her fight, Yeung felt a renewed surge of energy. If she hadn’t given up, he wouldn’t either.
Finally, the last treacherous soldier fell. The field was now well watered with blood, but despite the carnage around Yeung and the shrine guardian, they somehow smelled a strong fragrance of orchids. Yeung, who was in bad shape and leaning heavily on his sword, said to the shrine guardian, “Get away from here… and go west. If you go back home now… they will find another way to… try… and kill you. So head west… and keep on training. Maybe one day… when you are strong enough… you can come back home… but now… you have to leave.”
The shrine guardian was confused by Yeung’s rambling and tried to take his hand. However, Yeung slapped her hand away. The shrine guardian suddenly noticed a sword piercing through Yeung’s chest. She understood then what Yeung was trying to say to her.
When Yeung saw that the shrine guardian was close to tears, he tried to comfort her.
“There is nothing… to be sad about. I will always be with you… in spirit. Every time you train… it will be as if… I am by your side. So please… don’t be upset...”
Those were Yeung’s last words, blown away by the wind in a torrent of petals. As she gathered his dead body into her arms, those words kept going through her head. Yeung was clever and fearless, and this was not how she had envisioned his life to end.
After she buried him, she found herself unable to leave his body. She thought back to her life, how she was kept away from people and shut up indoors. She didn’t want to go back to that life. She didn’t want to run away and become a sage either, living her life through books. She had fought and killed. She was a warrior now. She had lost the person closest to her, but her story had just begun.
Thus, the shrine guardian promised herself.
She would go west, and she would keep training. And one day, she would be strong enough to come back home and face those who betrayed her and Yeung.
From then on, she would be the protector of the weak, and would cleanse the evils of the world.
Lahn ran away from her home in the east and came to the western continent to devote herself to training and get over her past tragedies.
She stood in the pouring rain, the sky painted black as the storm raged on.
Lahn stood there hoping that the rain would wash clean the memories of her lover, her trainer, of the betrayal that befell the two of them. The weapon in her hands a bitter memory, tormenting her daily.
So many questions continued to weigh her down. The anger inside caused her to bite her lip till she drew blood, and the weight of the past caused her to fall down. As her face hit the mud, her vision blurred and she saw boots of the soldiers that betrayed her. The memories tied her down once more.
"The lessons that I taught you, that are displayed so perfectly in your dance of death, are clouded by smoke of the past."
The voice rang a familiar note. She climbed to her feet once more, and as her eyes met the man's, time itself seemed to stop. "Yeung Reung-Hyang!" she cried out in excitement, her voice echoing loud enough to scare spirits in their slumber. "I saw you die, how is this possible?", the words thundered from her mouth, the memories flowing like a waterfall.
"How can I ignore the cries of the weeping orchid? I told you I would always be with you, did you not believe my words?" For a moment, Lahn stared at him. The sweet voice that haunted her rang out once more.
"We gave everything to our country, yet we were betrayed. The scars on our backs display the ambitions of the snakes of the court. We survived. There is no darkness to be fearful of, we need to embrace it and save the world from corruption, to save the innocent. The path ahead is covered in thorns, yet the orchid does not fear their cuts."
As he took her hand, her heart raced. Was it relief at seeing him alive once more? Was it apprehension? "As I searched for you, my orchid, I felt the power of a divine weapon. Its power sang a powerful tune, one of innocence returned and corruption vanquished. If we can control it, make it ours, we will not want for anything else."
She would follow him to the end of the earth, and she let her spirit follow the path it wished to walk. Together they traveled for several days until they came upon two hilts stuck in the ground. To anyone else, they looked like relics of wars past, yet she could feel the power emanating from them. There was no doubt that these were divine weapons, just as Yeung had told her. She felt that if she could reach out to them, she could right the wrongs of time. Those who betrayed her would bend the knee, and the kingdom of peace she read about could finally stand. Her hand reached toward the power that could change the world to her desire.
Suddenly the sky cracked and darkness surrounded her. She watched as the darkness clung to her fingers, then started to consume her. The blades were tainted, permeated by the curse of an evil god. She looked out to Yeung, but was greeted with a twisted smile.
"You sweet, naive fool. Did you really believe that the dead could return to life? Or could you not see past my illusion? You see, I desecrated the traitorous Yeung's body, and displayed his decapitated head in the capital for all to see. Your head will be next, and my name will be renowned for generations!"
As the illusion of Yeung melted, she realized that it was one of the court traitors that had led to Yeung’s death. A monster in human skin, one who had ripped her life from beneath her feet, stood in front of her. She went for her crescent pendulum, but she froze as nausea and disgust took over her.
"You have awakened the Crimson Glaives that have laid dormant for thousands of years. You, who was so pure of spirit will now fall prey to the darkness. Your desire for that pitiful man has led you here, and now your body and spirit will be consumed by the glaives."
Lahn fought the corruption running through her being as she slammed her noble sword deep into the beast's chest. A foul stench escaped his body. Instead of dropping dead, the betrayer looked her dead in the eyes and laughed. He picked out a hidden black stone, which he had obtained during his travels across the continent, and swallowed it whole, transforming himself via an alchemical process.
"I underestimated you, child. You did not just awaken the Crimson Glaives, you also managed to withstand its corruption this long. I'm going to enjoy feasting on whatever remains of you." At that point, his body became engulfed in a mysterious energy. He broke free of his human shell as his body began to distort and expand, his muscles growing.
Lahn was starting to lose herself. She was succumbing to something primal deep within, something that she had experienced just once before, an unquenchable thirst for death and destruction. Unbeknownst to even her, her innate divine power and the curse of the evil god within the glaives had harmonized, resulting in the creation of a mighty destructive power.
She lashed out, channeling this thirst towards the beast in front of her. They clashed, the sound of metal on bone filling the air as the hideous monster deflected her strikes with protruding bones that had burst through his flesh.
"Look at me! You are no orchid, you are a monster. No better than myself. The Crimson Glaives have chosen you, and the only path for you to take is the same that Yeung took." The monster's hideous laughter filled the air. Yet those were his last words, as the betrayer faded away. A fatal blow had been struck, yet Lahn was unaware that the action was carried out by the Crimson Glaives she was holding. These divine weapons had awoken after millennia in slumber.
She stood in the pouring rain, the sky painted black as the storm raged on.
Lahn stood there hoping that the rain would clean the blood that covered her. Piles of lifeless bodies lay scattered around her. Echoes of laughter mingled with the crackling of fire. The scent of orchids had been replaced with the stench of blood. She felt a tug at her dress, and saw a horrified face begging for mercy. "Disgusting" she thought to herself, and slammed the Crimson Glaives through the person. The red blood splashed her snow-white cheeks, yet she paid no mind. She walked away, as if nothing had happened.
Corrupted by the glaives, she had come to the conclusion that eternal rest was true happiness, and had turned into a figure of madness that severed the life of everything she came across.
One day, as a consequence of a significant event that occurred in the continent, she lost her memories, and with them, the Crimson Glaives.